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22.07.2015 16:01    Comments: 0    Categories: Weekly Parashah      Tags: scriptures  torah  shabbat  parshat  devarim  

The Inheritance of the Half-tribe of Manasseh

Deuteronomy 3:12-16 reads:

And this land we inherited at that time: from Aroer along the wadi Arnon, with the hill country of Gilead and its town, I assigned to the Reubenites and the Gadites. The rest of Gilead, and all of Bashan under Og’s rule—the whole Argob district, all that part of Bashan which is called Rephaim country—I assigned to the half-tribe of Manasseh. Jair son of Manasseh received the whole Argob district (that is, Bashan) as far as the boundary of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and named it after himself: Havvoth-Jair—as is still the case. To Machir I assigned Gilead.

And to the Reubenites and the Gadites I assigned the part from Gilead down to the wadi Arnon, the middle of the wadi being the boundary, and up to the wadi Jabbok, the boundary of the Ammonites.

According to what the book of Numbers (32:1-2) relates, the appeal to Moses to receive land on the eastern side of the Jordan came from the Reubenites and the Gadites:

The Reubenites and the Gadites owned cattle in very great numbers. Noting that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were a region suitable for cattle, the Gadites and the Reubenites came to Moses, Eleazar the priest, and the chieftains of the community, and said…

Scripture does not note any appeal on the part of the tribe of Manasseh, yet nevertheless it says later on in the chapter, in verse 33: “So Moses assigned to them—to the Gadites, the Reubenites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh son of Joseph—the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites and the kingdom of King Og of Bashan, the land with its various cities and the territories of their surrounding towns.”

Why was the half-tribe of Manasseh added to those who inherited on the eastern side of the Jordan even though they did not appeal to Moses to receive their allotment of land there?

Malbim, in his commentary on verses 17-18, cited above, explains:

To the Reubenites and the Gadites—I did in fact give the tribes of Reuben and Gad from Gilead etc., even though this was not done by the urim ve-tumim and by lot…This was done for the reason already explained in Parashat Matot, namely that they had requested this land since it was suitable for pasture. This explains the point about which commentators have wondered, why he gave the half-tribe of Manasseh land on the other side of the Jordan when they had not requested pasture land. Only Reuben and Gad had requested, so why did he join the half-tribe of Manasseh to them? Therefore it explains here, because they conquered that area and hence it remained in their hands as their allotment.

Malbim clarifies the point that the two tribes and half-tribe received their allotment from Moses without casting lots, in contradistinction to the rest of the tribes who were apportioned their land by lot [=urim ve-tumim]:[1] Reuben and Gad because of the many cattle they owned, and the half-tribe of Manasseh because they held areas of land on the other side of the Jordan even before the Israelites went to war and conquered there, as is said in this week’s reading in the verses cited above. In other words, Moses’ words in this week’s reading clarify the difficulty raised in Numbers concerning the half-tribe of Manasseh joining with those who received land in Transjordan.

When was the conquest of these territories that were given to the half-tribe of Manasseh in Transjordan? One explanation is given by the verses cited at the beginning of this article and by Parashat Matot (Num. 32:39-42):[2]

The descendants of Machir son of Manasseh went to Gilead and captured it, dispossessing the Amorites who were there; so Moses gave Gilead to Machir son of Manasseh, and he settled there. Jair son of Manasseh[3] went and captured their villages, which he renamed Havvoth-Yair. And Nobah went and captured Kenath and its dependencies, renaming it Nobah after himself.

In other words, the parts in Transjordan that were given to families from the tribe of Manasseh they themselves had conquered and not the Israelites as a whole, as was the case with the land given to the Reubenites and Gadites. Therefore, the verb that appears often in conjunction with the ancestral houses of Manasseh is l-k-d, captured.

Nahmanides suggests another explanation (in his commentary on Num. 32:33):

And to the half-tribe of Manasseh son of Joseph—the tribe of Manasseh did not come to him at the outset, but when he apportioned the land to the two tribes, he saw that it was a broader land than appropriate to them and he asked, whoever wishes come and receive their allotment with them; and some Manassites desired it, perhaps being people with cattle, and so he gave it to them…

Perhaps since these two families, that of Machir and that of Gilead, were the least numerous in the tribe, they desired to separate from their tribe so that they would have a larger inheritance than them, for they would capture it by the sword, as it is written, “Since Machir…was a valiant warrior, Gilead and Bashan were his” (Josh. 17:1). Therefore he mentions specific regions with regard to this tribe, and does not with regard to the other tribes.

In other words, according to Nahmanides, originally the tribe of Manasseh was not supposed to receive land in Transjordan, but the territory that had been conquered there was too large for just the tribes of Reuben and Gad, so Moses offered it to all the Israelites, and part of the tribe of Manasseh wanted it, perhaps because it was suitable given their large number of cattle.

The timing of the conquest of the Manassite families’ lands still remains in question. Yehuda Kil, in his commentary on Chronicles,[4] presents two interpretations that concern land held in Israel by Joseph’s sons prior to the conquest. One interpretation is by an exegete who is referred to as “a disciple of Rabbi Saadiah Gaon” (10th century), and one is by Judah the Hassid (founder of Hassidut Ashkenaz, 12th century). We cite first from the Ashkenazi rabbi:

The Israelites had many holdings of land in Canaan where their fathers had dwelt, and even though the Israelites were in Egypt, they would send to the land of Canaan to care for their fields and vineyards. They would harvest grain and grapes and bring in money. And my father used to show from Chronicles that as long as the Israelites were in Egypt, at least still in the days of Joseph, Joseph’s offspring went…and built cities in the land of Canaan on their lands, and they settled servants there to pay them a levy and take care of their property.

The Egyptians were afraid lest these and those join forces and fight against them…While Joseph was yet alive those in Canaan would give the levy to the Israelites, but after Joseph’s death Pharaoh forced them to pay it to him, and therefore he feared lest they unite and together, Israelites and Canaanites, plot against them and get up out of the land.

This interpretation relates to Exodus 1:10: “Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and get them up out of the land.” We understand from this that Joseph’s offspring—Manasseh and Ephraim—had land holdings in Canaan which they had acquired while their father Joseph was still alive. They built cities there and planted vineyards and farmed fields which they leased to serfs who paid them a levy. As long as Joseph remained alive, Pharaoh gave this his approval out of respect for him, but after Joseph’s death Pharaoh took the levies which the Canaanites were paying to Joseph’s sons for himself; therefore he feared lest the Canaanites get them up out of the land of Canaan and join ranks with Joseph’s sons in Egypt and together fight against Pharaoh.

This indicates that the tribe of Manasseh had cities in the land of Canaan even before it was conquered. Kil adds:

Should you ask what lot befell those who dwelled in the above lands when the bondage began, a disciple of Rabbi Saadiah Gaon has already answered this…“After Joseph and his brothers died, Gashur and Aram arose, and these gentiles peoples grew mightier and captured Havvot-Yair, etc.’

Presumably the Israelites who were living in these lands were killed, and their servants who worked the lands for them were either killed along with them or became assimilated amongst the other inhabitants of the land. But the fact that Israelites had owned these lands was not forgotten even during the long period of bondage.

The Jerusalem Talmud (Bikkurim, chapter 1, 64b/halakhah 8) contains a baraita which discusses the question of bringing first fruits from territories on the eastern side of the Jordan:

It is taught: “Which You gave me,” meaning which I did not appropriate myself. What is the difference [i.e., between defining the land as “that which You gave me” as opposed to “a land of milk and honey”]? Rabbi Avin said: The half-tribe of Manasseh illustrates the difference. To those who say, “which You gave me,” meaning that I did not appropriate it myself—to them I say: The half-tribe of Manasseh did not appropriate the land themselves. To those who say, “a land of milk and honey”—to them I say: Even so, theirs was not a land of milk and honey.

Deuteronomy 26:10 says: “‘Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, O Lord, have given me.’ You shall leave it before the Lord your G-d and bow low before the Lord your G‑d.” From the words, “which You have given me,” it was deduced that this does not refer to land which a tribe took for itself, therefore first fruits may be brought from the land of the half-tribe of Manasseh living on the eastern side of the Jordan, because they received it without asking for it, unlike the lands of Reuben and Gad, who asked Moses for their allotments; therefore their lands are not “which You gave me,” and hence first fruits may not be brought from their lands.

The midrash explains things differently (Pesikta Zutreta [Lekah Tov] Numbers, Parashat Matot, p. 140b):

Moses said to them: “If every advance guard among the Gadites and the Reubenites crosses the Jordan”…Why were the Gadites and Reubenites put together in this regard, to dwell east of the Jordan? Because the Gadites were along with the Reubenites under the same standard. And the Shimonites, since twenty-four thousand of them had fallen in the Zimri affair, did not want to be separated from the rest of the Israelites.

And the half-tribe of Manasseh, since it had been Manasseh son of Joseph who had caused the tribes to rend their clothes in the affair of the goblet that was found in Benjamin’s sack, therefore their allotment was torn asunder, half of it being on the other side of the Jordan.

This midrash is based on the narrative in Genesis 44:1-4, 12-13:

Then he instructed his house steward as follows, “Fill the men’s bags with food, as much as they can carry, and put each one’s money in the mouth of his bag. Put my silver goblet in the mouth of the bag of the youngest one, together with his money for the rations.” And he did as Joseph told him.

With the first light of morning, the men were sent off with their pack animals. They had just left the city and had not gone far, when Joseph said to his steward, “Up, go after the men! And when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why did you repay good with evil?’”...He searched, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest; and the goblet turned up in Benjamin’s bag. At this they rent their clothes. Each reloaded his pack animal, and they returned to the city.

The midrash (Sekhel Tov [Buber] Gen. 43:16) identifies Joseph’s “house steward” with his son Manasseh: “When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to his house steward—that was Manasseh.”

Although the midrash views the Manassites receiving their allotment east of the Jordan as a punishment, perhaps Moses gave the half-tribe of Manasseh territory across the Jordan in order to be sure the Reubenites and Gadites would be prevented from breaking off from the rest of their brethren who inherited in the western part of the country; just as the goblet that Manasseh had placed in Benjamin’s sack, upon orders from his father Joseph, was intended to make sure the brothers were indeed completely united. In other words, the half-tribe of Manasseh served as the connecting link, joining the Israelite tribes on both sides of the Jordan.

Translated by Rachel Rowen



* Dr. Barkai is head of Lifschitz Teachers' College in Jerusalem.

[1] Num. 34:13-15: “Moses instructed the Israelites, saying: This is the land you are to receive by lot as your hereditary portion, which the Lord has commanded to be given to the nine and a half tribes. For the Reubenite tribe by its ancestral houses, the Gadite tribe by its ancestral houses, and the half-tribe of Manasseh have already received their portions: those two and a half tribes have received their portion across the Jordan, opposite Jericho, on the east, the orient side.”

[2] Likewise in Josh. 13:22.

[3] A. Mirski notes in Da`at Mikra’s commentary on this verse that Yair was a descendant of Judah, his father being Segub son of Hezron, son of Perez, son of Judah, as detailed in I Chron. 2:3-22, but his lineage here is traced through his father’s mother, who was the daughter of Machir son of Manasseh. He was associated with the tribe of Manasseh because he went along with the sons of Machir son of Manasseh when they fought for Gilead (Num. 32:39-41).

[4] Yehuda Kil, Da`at Mikra, Chronicles, Jerusalem 1986, p. 194 (commentary on Chron. 7:22).

 
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